I cleaned my office this week.
I found four copies of Beowulf, a dusty and almost empty bottle of Christian Brothers Brandy, and this article which was written for Runner’s World’s “Finish Line”: personal essays published on RW’s last page. It protruded from a copy of Galloway’s Book on Running and was accompanied by a signed rejection slip (returned in an SASE—remember those?) dated March 20, 1989:
MENDING HEART, SWOLLEN KNEES
Running has always been an integral part of my life: a mildly successful (but highly enjoyable) high school career, then 10Ks in college, and the occasional marathon. Like most recreational runners I have years of running journals, bad knees, and enough race day t-shirts to clothe a Third World nation.
But I never realized how important running was to me until after my wife died.
She died following a three year battle with cancer. Even though you are prepared for the death of a spouse, the reality doesn’t hit you until the dirt hits the coffin.
Then it hits you.
Old friends look at you with sad eyes. Fellow workers trip over their tongues trying to talk about safe subjects. Clergy you’ve never seen before (or since) call with condolences. Even your children look at you strangely: but that’s probably because they now have to eat my cooking.
During the time immediately after my wife’s death the only thing that was stable and safe to me was my daily run. My legs burned the same on the hills. My heart beat in my ears during interval work. My lungs still pulled in the cold morning air. Sweat is salty as tears.
Looking back I see that running enabled me to deal with a difficult situation more effectively than support groups, uncontrolled weeping, or alcohol.
I tried all three.
But I took to running long slow distances. Every Wednesday I routinely ran a slow, easy 24-28 miler.
I work weekends and my Wednesday is most people’s Sunday. The kids were in school. I had the whole day (until 3:00 PM) to myself. I would slip off into the morning fog and run to town—eight miles away. Once in town I would run two or three miles on Casa Grande’s track then jog cross-town to Petaluma High for another eight to twelve laps. I’d stop at gas stations and the library for water. I’d pit-stop at my cousin’s or my parents’ for a Seven-Up.
Then eight miles back home.
I got into real good shape, the best shape of my life. I started thinking about taking a weekend off, paying the registration fee, and running another “real” marathon. I thought about adding some fast mile intervals for speed work. I considered a new PR 2:30? Maybe?
Then I did the only sensible thing and ran my Wednesdays without my Casio.
PRs had nothing to do with this phase of my running life. I loved my weekly runs. They were quietly important and essential to me. They sustained me, emotionally and physically, for the entire week. The exertion was sublime and the accomplishment—every week—was a thrill but the most important thing was that these runs afforded me a socially acceptable reason to be alone.
I craved solitude.
I needed to be completely alone and unfettered for X number of hours a week. In retrospect it wasn’t the miles run but the time alone that was crucial.
To view these long slow ambling runs as the means to a 2:30 marathon was sacrilege. They were important in and of themselves. They were real and alive.
Unfortunately we often see ourselves, not as we are, but as others view us. At work (and by family) I was viewed as a creature deserving sympathy: “Poor Rob,” they’d say, “five kids, no wife, up to his eyeballs in debt.”
I am single with five kids and a stack of bills but I will never be deserving of pity. When I am alone and running I am the person I know I am: Quirky but solid. Kind of funny.
Running has allowed me to weather a tremendous storm. It’s maintained my self-esteem after my world came tumbling down. It has always been a part of my life. But during these last few years it has saved my life.
* * *
MENDING HEART, BAD KNEES was never published; never had—as an unsolicited submission from an unknown writer/runner—any chance of publication. But reading it 20+ years later I’m kind of proud of the fledging writer who typed and proofed and retyped and sent it away (with an SASE, of course).
This stuff we write.
It doesn’t matter if the stuff is published. In the end it matters only that it’s written.
Rob Loughran lives in Sonoma County and has a very clean office.
Go buy a copy of Rob’s new middle-grade novel The Smartest Kid in Petaluma at:
(Or a copy of Tantric Zoo: A Bud Warhol Mystery)
(Or a copy of A Man Walks Into a Bar...)
(Or a copy of Teenaged Pussies From Outer Space: A Love Story)